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CamboFest hopes to inspire Cambodian filmmakers

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Film festival brings independent international and Cambodian movie makers to Siem Reap in the hope of one day creating a viable film industry

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Audience members view one of the film entrants at CamboFest 2007.

IN a country where the film industry used to be embodied in the person of the King, the idea of rebuilding the culture of cinema from the bottom up may seem just a bit out of place. But that is exactly what CamboFest organiser Jason Rosette is trying to pull off.

The second CamboFest festival, which Rosette calls "definitely a grass-roots, low-budget affair", will offer lovers of independent film a selection of more than 60 films from around the world.

In proper indie fashion, admission to the event - to be held in Siem Reap this weekend - will be free in order to encourage Cambodian viewers.

Trailers and short film clips from the festival will also be broadcast on CamboTube, a "YouTube-style" website set up by Rosette's media production group Camerado.

Promoting free initiative

Rosette got the idea to start a private-sector movie festival with a global outlook in 2006 during a globalisation course at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

I hope people get a kick out of the festival and ...emerging cambodian

filmmakers check it out.

"At that time, there was no other actual movie festival here," he said. "You had a lot of festivals that were actually just extensions of donor or organisational programs."

Rosette said he chose Cambodia to set up the festival because the government's restrictions on media were not as strict as in other countries in the region.

In Vietnam, it would be difficult to have DVDs mailed without interference from the government, Rosette said. Thailand was under military rule at the time, so Cambodia promised to be the friendliest environment for a nascent independent film festival.

With a budget of under US$10,000, CamboFest relies on a loose network of volunteers.

For instance, the film award jury consists of a varied group - "from the BBC, Digipost, Singapore, Malaysia and a bunch of Khmer guys".

"Many of my Khmer assistants [initially] did not know what a movie festival was," he said. "Basically, I told them: ‘It's like a party with movies, and you show different movies from around the world'."

But Rosette said it is difficult for Camerado, which is a private business, to compete with non-profit organisations that receive funding from outside and have "a thousand times our budget". Despite this disadvantage, he said he is convinced that more private initiative and less patronage is the way forward in Cambodia.

Rosette, who is also a filmmaker, said he wants to help create a viable movie industry in Cambodia by encouraging local talent. "Emerging filmmakers may look and say: ‘Wow, look at what filmmakers in Cuba or in Brazil are doing!' Maybe that will expand their technical ability or give them different ideas."

But attracting Cambodian talent is not easy, he admitted. Even though CamboFest aims to be an international festival, Cambodia's five contributions are less than Rosette said he was hoping for.

"It's not like you can just hang up a sign [asking for film contributions] in a film society like you would in the West," he said.

Schools and NGOs training young filmmakers tend to "capture" their students and discourage them from participating in events organised by other groups, Rosette added.

Screening rights row

The formality of the submission process is another obstacle, as Rosette emphasised the need for filmmakers to secure 100 percent of the films' screening rights. Requesting written statements that they hold the copyright to their work may discourage local filmmakers. "It's an alien concept to them - it scares them away," Rosette said.

But securing public performance rights is necessary "to get distributors licensing to [Cambodia]," he said. "[The movie industry] does not really need Cambodia. If they see Cambodia is not diligent about [screening rights], they won't license, they won't be in our house."

He estimated that even with a conscientious screening rights policy and a more systematic outreach, it could take five to 10 years to fully establish the festival. "Maybe it turns out that the private sector grass-roots model cannot survive the competition from nonprofit organisations."

Still, Rosette has high hopes for the lo-fi concept behind CamboFest. "Many festivals, like South-by-Southwest or Sundance, they started very indie," he said. "Most importantly, it should be fun. I hope people get a kick out of the festival, and I hope a lot of emerging Cambodian filmmakers check it out. " CamboFest will be held from Friday to Monday.

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